Cleveland Browns right tackle Jack Conklin saw his 2021 season go from bad to worse on Sunday night in Baltimore.
Conklin, who had just returned to the lineup after missing three games with a dislocated elbow, went down with a knee injury on Cleveland’s second offensive series of the game. He was taken to the locker room on a card and subsequently ruled out for the game.
On Monday, head coach Kevin Stefanski delivered the news that everyone feared as he announced that Conklin suffered a torn patellar tendon in his right knee and is out for the rest of the season.
The veteran right tackle will undergo season-ending knee surgery.— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) November 29, 2021
It was too soon for Stefanski to provide any type of details about Conklin’s possible return, but judging from a 2016 study by Harry Mai, an MD candidate at Charles Drew/University of California Los Angeles Medical Education Program in Manhattan Beach, Calif., the news might not be good.
In the study, Mai and his team looked at 559 NFL players who underwent orthopedic procedures from 2003 to 2013. The procedures studied were ACL reconstruction, Achilles tendon repair, patellar tendon repair, cervical disc surgery, lumbar discectomy, sports hernia repair, knee microfracture, open reduction-internal fixation of radius, ulna, and ankle, and lower extremity long bone fractures.
The study found that NFL players whose injuries involve tendons and ligaments, like Conklin, fared worse than players who dealt with bone injuries.
While the average recovery time from the date of surgery to the first regular-season game was 339 days, players that dealt with patella tendon repairs did not come back for 391 days. In addition, the average games played after a patella tendon surgery was 29, compared to the overall average of 35.8, and the median career length after surgery was just 1.1 years.
Finally, Mai’s research found “sustained decreases in performance were seen in the seasons following the procedure for … patella tendon repair.”
One thing working in Conklin’s favor is the level of care he will receive as an NFL player, which is something Mai highlighted in a 2016 story on the MedPage Today website:
“These are elite athletes whose livelihoods depend upon return to sport, and these data represent the ‘gold standard’ for orthopedic care, as these athletes receive the most extensive and top level of care. Multiple papers have demonstrated the shear forces on the knee joint that NFL athletes are subject to, especially on artificial turf. In a reconstructed tendon, these shear forces can lead to failure as well as reduction in speed, change of direction, and cutting ability.”
None of that sounds very promising for Conklin’s future as a player, but medical technology has certainly advanced in the past eight years, so for now it is best to leave it to the experts. But it would not come as a surprise if general manager Andrew Berry now adds right tackle to his offseason to-do list.
Conklin was in his second season with the Browns after signing a three-year, $42 million contract in 2020. He was a first-team All-Pro selection, which makes his absence that much tougher to overcome.
In his place, the Browns will continue to turn to Blake Hance, a second-string guard who is trying his best to play tackle.